Our aunt’s new husband had a wide waist and fingernails like tombstones but my sister and I had to stay there anyway. Friday afternoons, my mother drove us over the long bridge, past the huge cemetery where we’d hold our breath, into the dense streets of Brooklyn. We’d climb the brick stoop and enter the cold marble foyer of Aunty’s building.
In the kitchen, my uncle stood at the sink, serious as a surgeon. He’d wash a glass, hold it up to the light, wash it again. My sister & I would take out coloring books, not jostling each other or grabbing crayons. Not even talking. Down the hall, the incinerator burned. My sister said for us. That it was burning for us. Brooklyn.
We didn’t call him uncle. We didn’t call him anything. He gave messages to her to give to us. “Tell them not to be so loud.” “Make sure they don’t get in my way.” We’d walk through the winter streets, my sister & I two steps behind, following his black hat and overcoat, Aunty’s camelhair cape, past the boarded-up amusements of Coney Island, down to the foaming Atlantic. We’d sit on the soggy sand, and look at the grey sea. The grey sky. Brooklyn.
My aunt sewed outfits for our Barbies. Skating skirts made out of squares of felt, Wedding gowns from doilies, She’d point out the tiny beads, each perfect buttonhole. At night, dolls propped against the pillows, we fought to stay awake. We’d listen for the elevator’s hum and traffic sliding over the wet streets and for his footsteps paused at our door.
Then they had a baby and we loved him. We adored his prickly hair and his miniature nostrils. We’d sit by the window and point to the cars below. “Look how far down things are.” Cousin Marc grew to be a squat man, like we were seeing him from an upper floor. Friendly but sneaky, always angling for something. Drugs mostly. He died on a brick stoop in Brooklyn.
Instead of ‘suitcase’ my aunt would say ‘valise’. “Pack carefully, girls.” We did, first our boots and shoes, then our pants and shirts. Finally we’d dress the dolls, stretching one layer over another, like they were immigrants escaping from the old country. Brooklyn.